Poverty Is An Illness

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Poverty is not just a phenomenon of poor, homeless and hungry people. 

It is a social and economic epidemic, and here are some sobering statistics:

– “Nearly 1/2 of the world’s population–more than 3 billion people–live on less than $2.50 a day.”

– More than 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty–less than $1.25 a day.”

– “1 Billion children worldwide are living in poverty…and 165 million children under the age of 5 were stunted…due to malnutrition.”

– “1/4 of all humans live without electricity.”

– “80% of the world population lives on less than $10 a day.”

Those empty stomachs, battered roofs, and tattered clothes are leaving indelible marks on so many impoverished people, yet many at the other end of the spectrum are living so high and mighty…it’s a crazy contrast that fails to make any sense. 

Passing by the stronghold buildings of the World Bank in Washington, D.C., I found these striking “End Poverty” t-shirts that they had in their storefront–although I couldn’t help think how far removed this place was from this sorry state of global poverty and chaotic and violent world affairs. 

We are living in an incredible bubble, and while I often hear how grateful people are to be here and have “all this,” somehow I just don’t think we fully get it what’s going on out there! 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Plenty Of Food For All

Bread

I remember as a teenager visiting, on occasion, the Catskill Mountain hotels for the holidays and watching not only the enormous amounts that people seemed to order and eat, but also the huge amounts that simply went uneaten and was discarded.

Taste from this dish…don’t like it, throw it out. Try that food…but your not in love with it either, into the trash as well. Like a smorgasbord or food orgy to end all others. 

Honestly, the waste from such hubris is disgusting especially with world hunger unbelievably still topping 925 million people or 1 in 7 worldwide. 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (21 December 2012) reports that in India alone villagers average only about 2,000 calories a day–when less than 2,400 qualifies for government food aid. And “half of all children younger than three years old in India weight too little for their age; [and] 8 in 10 are anemic” (i.e. do not have enough healthy red blood cells).

Despite the mass poverty and corruption hindering people getting enough healthy food around the world, BBC News (30 November 2012) cites incredible statistics that “the average American family throws away 40% of the food they purchase–which adds up to $165 billion annually.” 

However, not all the food being thrown out is because of people acting like–I’ll just say it–like pigs, but because if not eaten right away, food spoils.

Food spoliage affects the taste, smell, and appearance of food and the pathogens involved can make people sick. So some food–not fresh anymore–really needs to get discarded. 

Now Texas Tech University has invented MicroZap a microwave technology that functions to pasteurize food so it stays fresh longer.

For example, MicroZap can kill mold spores in bread in about 10 seconds. Thus, normal bread which goes moldy after 10 days, can stay fresh instead for 60 days–and at the “same mold content as it had when it came out of the oven.”

MicroZap can also be used on eggs and meat to improve food safety by killing E. Coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. 

An additional benefit to MicroZap is that food manufacturers may not need all the additives and preservatives that get mixed in, as well as the other chemicals used to mask the taste of them. 

 Further uses for MicroZap include the washing and drying of clothes in hospitals, nursing homes, day care centers, and fitness centers to sterilize them and even kill superbug MRSA (in excess of 99.999%).

The application of microwave technology to food safety and to sterilizing laundry is exciting not only from the perspective of reducing illness and infection, but also in terms of cutting waste and reducing hunger and malnutrition. 

If we can cost-effectively deploy this technology to improve safety and reduce waste, and then redistribute food to those in genuine need, we can feed the world with the food we already have at our fingertips–and there can be plenty of bread for everyone. 😉

(Source Photo: Minna Blumenthal) 

>The Triple I Factors

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Recently, I was watching the new ABC News broadcast called “Be The Change: Save A Life.” And in this one episode, a group of Stanford University students solved a critical life and death problem afflicting the world in which 4 million premature and malnourished babies die every year due to hypothermia and another 16 million that survive suffer life-long illness such as diabetes and heart disease because their internal organs do not form right.

The challenge in the developing world is access to incubators, which typically cost $20,000 and are not available in rural areas. In turn, some Stanford students formed a team and developed the Embrace infant warmer, a low-cost, local solution. It is a $25 waterproof baby sleeping bag with a pouch for a reheatable wax-like substance that is boiled in water and maintains its temperature for 4 to 6 hours at a time. It is hoped that this product will save 1 million babies within the first five years in India alone!

As I reflected on this amazing feat of technology, I marveled at how this group of young adults was able to overcome such a big world problem and solve it so simply. And while I understand that they focused on the end-users and the root cause of the problems, it is still a remarkable story.

After listening to the team members describe their project and approach, I believe there are three critical factors that show through and that can be the tipping point in not only their, but also our technology projects’ success. These three factors, which I call the Triple I Factors are as follows:

Idealism—the students had a shared idealism for a better world. Seeing people’s pain and suffering drove their vision. And in turn, they committed themselves to finding a cure for it. Embrace is now a non-profit organization seeking to save lives versus just making a profit.

Imagination—the product team was able to imagine an unconventional alternative to the status quo. They were able to project a vision for a low cost and mobile infant warmer into concrete solutions that were user-centric for the people in need.

Innovation—the ultimate product design was truly innovative. It marries a high technology phase-change wax substance for maintaining body temperature with a simple baby sleeping bag. Moreover, the innovation is not just in the materials of the product, but in the usability, so for example, this product requires no electricity, something that is not always available in rural India.

While, there are certainly many factors that go into successful technology product launches, including strong leadership, sound project management, and the technical competence of the team, I think that the Triple I factors—idealism, imagination, and innovation—albeit soft factors are ones that should not be underestimated in their ability to propel meaningful technology solutions.

As IT leaders, we need to create a healthy balance and diverse competencies in the organization between the hard factors and the soft factors, so that we can tackle everything from children dying from malnutrition and hypothermia to cures for cancer, and of course, ongoing IT breakthroughs in knowledge management, social engineering, and human productivity await.